Do the Baftas and the Oscars have a diversity problem?
BY TOBY YOUNG
As a Bafta member, I was impressed by this year’s list of nominees. I had dutifully worked my way through most of the DVD ‘screeners’ of 2019’s most prestigious films and I thought my fellow members had got it right. The five movies nominated for Best Picture – The Irishman, Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite and 1917 – didn’t completely overlap with mine (I nominated Le Mans ’66 instead of The Irishman) but they were pretty close.
Confirmation that these were more or less the right choices came the following day when the list of nominees was greeted with a chorus of disapproval by the virtue-signalling commentariat. Not only had Bafta’s voters ignored the politically correct film critics who’d condemned Joker for supposedly ‘glamorizing’ violent incels, they’d also neglected to nominate Little Women for Best Picture in spite of a concerted campaign to shame them into doing so, with numerous articles beforehand claiming men aren’t giving director Greta Gerwig her due because she’s a woman.
It wasn’t long before we started hearing about Bafta’s ‘diversity problem’ – and exactly the same attack line was used against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when the Oscar nominees were announced on Monday. Admittedly, Little Women has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but not Best Director, which was a scandal according to the Washington Post. Parasite, a South Korean black comedy, had received nods in both categories, as well as Best International Film, but director Bong Joon-Ho is Asian and, therefore, doesn’t really count as a person of colour. “Moonlight’s Best Picture win in 2017 seems a lifetime ago,” complained Screen Daily.
But hang on a minute. First of all, neither list of nominees is confined to white, heterosexual men. Thirteen female directors have been nominated for Baftas in various different categories, including three in the Film Not in the English Language. That’s up from nine last year. Overall, women account for 36 per cent of all the Bafta nominations and while I haven’t done the calculation I’m 99 per cent sure that’s higher than the overall percentage of women in the industry.
As for the Academy Awards, two women have been nominated for screenwriting, an African-American has been nominated for Best Actress and Antonio Banderas for Best Actor. And the Best Picture nominees include Jojo Rabbit, directed by Taika Waititi. #OscarsSoWhite2020? Not so much.
It’s also worth pointing out that the films that have received the most nominations, both here and in the US, are hardly white supremacist manifestos. Last time I checked, the directors of The Irishman, Joker and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were all Democrats. Being insufficiently woke doesn’t make you a racist or a misogynist or a homophobe.
That may sound obvious, but it’s a point lost on the identitarian left. The novelist Stephen King, a member of the Academy, was mobbed on Twitter earlier this week for claiming the diversity issue hadn’t come up when he cast his Oscar votes this year:
Cue thousands of ‘OK Boomer’ giffs in reply. Others accused him of outright racism. Almost no one pointed out that King is a longstanding member of the left who relentlessly campaigns against Donald Trump. Then again, the same self-flagellating white liberals attacked Bernie Saunders when he launched his campaign by saying he believed in ‘a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for’. Isn’t Saunders aware that claiming to judge people on the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin is classified as a “microaggression” on hundreds of American campuses? Tsk, tsk.
Not that the Wokerati ever let the facts get in the way of accusations of racial bias. In 2017, the Academy Awards were boycotted by several prominent African-American filmmakers, including Spike Lee, for being “too white”. In fact, 10 per cent of the actors nominated for Academy Awards between 2000 and 2016 were black. If you factor in that African-Americans make up 12.6 per cent of the US population, that suggests the Academy’s electorate is getting it about right – or being overly-generous. According to the Economist, only nine per cent of the top roles in the highest-grossing films of 2000 to 2013 were played by black actors, so the fact that they secured 10 per cent of the acting nominations suggests the members are guilty of positive discrimination.
Needless to say, the Academy has taken steps to “diversify” since the protest, even though it was groundless. Last year, 842 new members were introduced to the voting ranks, half of them women, and something similar has happened at Bafta. But, incredibly, it doesn’t look as if these new members have followed the “identity” script. Instead of nominating people of the same gender or ethnicity as them, they’ve taken the radical step of voting for those films they think were most worthy of recognition. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?
It’s impossible to prove that the Bafta and Oscar nominees this season are more deserving than some of the overlooked films with more diversity points. You can’t appeal to an objective standard to conclusively demonstrate that Little Women, say, wasn’t one of the five best-directed films of last year. But the curious thing about the onslaught of criticism is that few of the finger-waggers have claimed that the overlooked movies were better than the nominated ones. No, the complaint is that they should have been nominated just because they were directed by women or people of colour. In other words, they should have been judged by political standards rather than artistic ones. That’s a tacit admission that, if you just evaluate the nominees on artistic merit, the voters got it right.
No doubt I’ll be culled from Bafta in due course, along with hundreds of other white, heterosexual, middle-aged men. But I’m reasonably confident that whoever I’m replaced by will continue to ignore the screaming meanies on Twitter and vote for those films they think are the best, ignoring the colour, gender and sexual orientation of those who made them.
Toby Young is a broadcaster, writer and journalist. Follow him on twitter: @toadmeister